May 2, 2011
While derby leagues pop up around them, this team still has quite a trip “across the pond” to play other WFTDA leagues. As the first league from outside North America to be accepted into the WFTDA, the London Rollergirls are getting used to adding “firsts” to their record books, including recently hosting the first WFTDA tournament held outside the U.S. in April 2011. Learn more about the London Rollergirls…
We are based in London, UK
How does your season run?
For the past few seasons, we have run a full intraleague season starting in the autumn, with the league championship sometime around June/July the following year. We are currently considering changing our season to more closely align with some of the US leagues, and to work around the Big 5 Tournaments.
Are you close to any other WFTDA leagues?
We have several WFTDA Apprentice Program leagues within driving (and ferry!) distance, but our closest full WFTDA leagues are still the East coast of the USA. With international flight hubs, that pretty much means leagues like Gotham Girls Roller Derby, Philly Roller Girls, Charm City Roller Girls, Boston Derby Dames, DC Rollergirls, etc.
How many skaters/teams do you have?
We hover around 60 skaters at most times, and they make up the four league teams and our sub-pool. We also have a recreation league that acts as a feeder pool for the main league, and that has about 40 skaters.
How is your league structured (home teams, travel team, management)?
Our league is registered as a UK Company Limited by Guarantee, which means that each member is an equal owner of the league and all profits from the company are put back into the company. It's kind of a cross between a regular limited company and a non-profit, without the non-profit official status. The league is run by a Board of Directors made up of five members, with democratic input from all league members for any major decisions. We have four league teams Steam Rollers, Suffra Jets, Ultraviolent Femmes, Harbour Grudges, and two active travel teams: London Brawling (A) and Brawl Saints (B).
How many days a week do you practice?
We have four practices a week: two league, one advanced, and one rotating team practice. We also have a lot of extra sessions for the travel team as warranted.
Who is London's biggest rival? And have you had any outstanding, memorable moments against them when you bouted?
To be honest, we don't have a big rival right now. Our A team is currently above the competitive landscape in Europe, so we have to look towards North America. I think we are pretty keen for a re-match against Montréal Roller Derby!
Back in the early days we used to have a bit of a rivalry with the Birmingham Blitz Dames, as they were the second league to start in the UK, but currently they are in a bit of a rebuilding phase.
We do have high hopes of some good cross-channel rivalries with Paris Roller Girls as they seem to have an excellent training programme – and a desire to step up the competitive level. Plus the whole France versus England thing is well established from the history books. :)
Do you have any sister leagues you’d like to give a shout out to?
We support all our UK and Euro leagues of course. We always have to give a shout out to Gotham for helping us by mentoring us during our time in the WFTDA Apprentice Program, and of course Texas Rollergirls for being the first US league to have the cojones to send a team across the pond.
What are the individual challenges of your city?
We probably face similar challenges to many leagues in big cities, with a few added wrinkles. Number one challenge: venues, venues, VENUES. This is an old city and there are not a lot of big spaces that can be utilized for practices or bouts. We have an entire committee devoted to venues, and the spreadsheet we call "the beast" to wrangle it all. When we do find venues, they are expensive. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and they don’t cut roller derby any slack. Not to mention, we have to compete with the hordes of "netball" squads, and the "badminton mafia" who seem to have block booked every single sports hall in the greater London area from here to eternity.
We also face a challenge of getting audience. This is a city with an enormous amount to do every single day and night, and we have to compete with that. Combine that with the fact that nobody in the UK had heard of roller derby till we came along – and it can be tough to get new butts in seats (or floor). Once we get them, we do retain them, but it can be a slow build.
And, most of us travel to practice on public transport. Try hauling that sweaty derby gear on to the Tube at 10p.m. for an hour + long ride home, and you will start to know the meaning of dedication.
Who are some of your favorite sponsors?
We love all our sponsors!
What are your biggest training challenges?
In the early days, it was hard because we had to teach everyone to skate and how to be aggressive! There aren't a lot of women’s sports in the UK, and certainly not many full contact sports. All the Americans remarked on how quiet the UK skaters were – can you imagine polite rollergirls?
Now that we skate at a higher skill level our challenge is to keep pushing it and to keep up with the latest strategies. It takes a lot of proactive research for us to know what’s going on with the top competitive levels of play in North America. We don't have the luxury of our travel team getting to play a lot of games to get experience, so we train in a bit of a bubble. We are not resting on our laurels, but we are proud of how competitive we actually are considering our isolation from other WFTDA leagues.
Who are the best "behind the scenes" skaters who make your league run?
Slice Andice has been helping run the league from the early days. Even though she has stepped down from being a Director, she still spends all her free time on progressing world derby domination in her new role as President of the United Kingdom Roller Derby Association.
Daisy Dioxin has been our tireless Sponsorship Director for ages. Vigour Mortis single handedly wrangles our special event venue – ExCeL – and bends them to our will.
And, of course, all of our long serving Directors: Missyle Elliot, Dr Feral, Silky Briefs, and Bette Noir.
Who are some of your star on-track skaters and why?
Stefanie Mainey has the reputation as the most feared derby player in Europe – she is a true all-rounder, but most often used to deadly effectiveness as a super powerful and agile blocker. Our travel team captain, Kamikaze Kitten, is another all-rounder who often stands out on the track. Our most recent star jammer, Vagablonde, made a real name for herself with her epic 29 point jam at Anarchy in the UK and her numerous apex jumps.
What kind of training/bouting facilities do you have?
We train in large sport halls (or gyms) in several different London locations. For our first three bouting years, we also held our public events in a large sports hall. The audience had to make its way past kids coming from the pool, and the capacity was only 500 people. We have finally stepped up to the next level and hold our public bouts at the historic Earls Court Exhibition Centre – a famous 1930s central London event space.
The London Rollergirls formed in April of 2006 and were the first roller derby league established in the United Kingdom. How did your league get started? What effect has it had on LRG that the roots of the roller derby resurgence were so far away?
LRG was started by three American expats. Two were living in the UK and found each other in a grappling class. The third, Bette Noir, was a derby girl from LA planning an eventual move to the UK. Bette connected with the other two via UK online skating forums, and she flew over in April 2006 to lead the first practice. Cyclone Bea and Sugrr Cain got the ball rolling for the first year (both are no longer with LRG), and then Bette moved over permanently in April 2007.
It probably was hard for us in that first year, as we were literally alone in a sea of no derby knowledge. YouTube and emails helped us learn the basics, with the occasional guest skater from the States adding skills to the mix. When Bette Noir moved over, we had a guest skater from Detroit visit around the same time. The mix of two experienced derby girls bringing some first hand knowledge to the raw talent of LRG made things really take off and it was only a few months until LRG had our first bout. Never looked back since...
In June 2010, the London Rollergirls achieved another first, as the first league outside of North America to be accepted into the WFTDA. Why was membership in the WFTDA important to your league? What advice can you give to other non-North American leagues seeking WFTDA membership?
When LRG started, derby was North America, period. From the initial days of the development of the league everyone agreed that our goal was to be part of the top competitive landscape. That did, and still does, mean being a part of the WFTDA. Frankly, we were ready from the beginning, we just needed the WFTDA to catch up!
We would advise any non-North American league to just reach out to the WFTDA and the wider derby community. There is plenty of advice and help and friendship on offer, and it doesn’t take much to connect with the more established leagues and to become part of the WFTDA itself. It probably seems daunting to apply for WFTDA Apprentice status – but leagues should realize that the WFTDA Apprentice programme is there to help grow leagues from the early days. They don't have to be at the competitive or organizational level that LRG was when we were accepted.
2011 marks London’s 5th year as a roller derby league. What advice would you give to the many new leagues that have just started rolling? Have you identified any challenges or benefits associated with being in your 5th year?
Man, we are like middle age for derby leagues – hard to believe! We advise any new leagues to think big when it comes to setting up. That means thinking beyond the two gals who got it going, thinking beyond that first game, thinking beyond the attendance policy that makes sense with ten girls. Think fairly and democratically and professionally, and think about how you present yourself to the audience of the future. Make policies that last for five years, not five months. And, you know, try to avoid the derby drama – just do your thing and do it well, and the rest will come to you.
Our challenges now are focused on how to remain competitive with our travel team, while still growing the home audience. And we have challenges about what to do with all the people in London who want to be rollergirls! We have more than 100 people on the waiting list just to join our recreational league.
On April 9th and 10th, the London Rollergirls hosted Anarchy in the UK, the first WFTDA sanctioned tournament played outside the United States. What made you want to host a tournament for your first sanctioned bouts in London? What was that experience like for LRG? What was the experience like for UK and European roller derby?
Well, we wanted to show North America that we are capable of putting on big events here in Europe – so that was always a factor. But we can't lie; it's cheaper to bring three WFTDA teams over here than to send our travel team squad to the US, so it made sense to give it a go. Plus, we really want to continue to help other Euro leagues get exposure to North American derby skills, so holding this kind of event on this side of the pond had a major impact not just on LRG, but on everyone.
The response from the Euro derby community was amazing. The audience was insane, and they just soaked up every bit of skill and strategy on display. We think it will really help light a competitive fire in many Euro teams, which is great for us all.
And of course, for LRG it was just an all around awesome time. Our travel team hadn't played a competitive game since April 2010, so the chance to play three top 20 teams in one weekend brought a whole new level to our understanding of what we need to do to keep improving.
For those of us not able to cross the pond to watch you play, when is your next scheduled bout stateside? What are LRG's long-term goals with respect to playing WFTDA sanctioned bouts?
We don't have anything scheduled! Our only scheduled WFTDA sanctioned event in the future is Rocky Mountain Rollergirls in London this August. We can't really commit to spending the money on sending our team over to the US until we know if we will qualify for 2011 East Region Playoffs, as we are obviously saving our budget for that.
If we can make it work money-wise, it would be great to have at least one London-based tournament like Anarchy each year. And of course, we want to be a part of the Big 5 Tournaments, and we can't wait until it’s the Big 6 – bring on Euro regionals!
In regards to the recent Royal Wedding, we’ve heard rumors about a derby wedding being held on the same date. Did LRG have any special plans to celebrate this momentous occasion?
I think we bandied around the idea of "wouldn't it be funny if..." but ultimately we didn't do anything for the royal wedding. I think most of us are just glad we get two four-day weekends in a row! We do have a picture of LRG's own Dr Feral skating with Catherine Middleton at a charity fundraiser though – SCORE!!
Is there any other information that you would like to share with the readers of wftda.com?
Most of us hate wearing pink.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
Our fans are awesome – not only do they support the growth of LRG, but they are spreading the roller derby gospel for us within Europe!
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Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.